Tuesday, June 13, 2006


American punditry has many aggravating habits, one of them being the incredible disdain that is heaped upon the United Nations. This was on full display before the Iraq war, but well before then as well. The Clinton administration did pathetically little to try and improve the UN's image, and even if it had tried more would have been stymied by the Helms-Burton wing of the GOP which dominated Congress.

That is all really prologue to the nomination of John Bolton, who is shaping up to be one of the worst Ambassadors to the UN ever. Bolton has repeatedly held US support for reform unless it meets every requirement of the US government, without any compromises.

In response to this petulance, the Deputy Sec. Gen. of the UN (Mark Malloch Brown) called the US leadership out (PDF) for basically presenting a one-sided picture of the UN's deeds to the American public: rather than defend the good deeds of the UN, US leaders are all to willing to let the UN be slandered by the right:
"today, on a very wide number of areas, from Lebanon and Afghanistan to Syria, Iran and the Palestinian issue, the U.S. is constructively engaged with the UN. But that is not well known or understood, in part because much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. That is what I mean by “stealth” diplomacy: the UN’s role is in effect a secret in Middle America even as it is highlighted in the Middle East and other parts of the world."
Bolton, ever the childish lout, has demanded, and been refused, a public apology or repudiation by Kofi Annan. And this is a good thing. The US has been able, for too long, to have it both ways when it comes to the UN - benefiting immensely from the increased security and global stability that the UN provides, while fighting tooth and nail any efforts to strengthen the UN. For years - Years! - the US refused to even pay dues to the UN, to the point where the General Assembly threatened to suspend the US's vote in the General Assembly (where the US doesn't have a veto.)

Some recent scholars have justified US imperialism by saying that the US provides a form of global government. I disagree - the US provides "governance", but not "government". Government is institutions, and ideally some accountabe legitimacy. Governance can be anything as base as right makes might.

Meanwhile, the world could have both governance and government, if only the major powers - and the US is far from alone - would help build and strengthen true institutions of global government.

But for that to happen, the US needs to stop pretending that the UN is irrelevant.


Anonymous said...

Very insightful analysis, except for a few points.

The US does (theoretically, at least), support reform at the United Nations. It has called for a revamped structure of the General Assembly, and might even support extension of permanent seats to a few other countries.

john said...

Yes, but the US has been unwilling - or at least Bolton has been unwilling - to compromise on its aims, so it tries to scuttle anything that's "almost" enough.